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Holidaymakers are playing a game of chicken with airlines – and it’s paying off

Airline and accommodation prices normally spike at this time, but it’s not happening this year as many are delaying making their bookings

It would appear that Irish holidaymakers have been playing a game of chicken with airlines in recent weeks and – for once – it seems that the holiday makers are winning.

In a normal year, holiday planning follows a predictable pattern with a surge in bookings through January and February as people seek respite from the midwinter gloom by giving themselves the promise of brighter days to come.

That surge tapers off by May, by which time airline and accommodation prices spike, with supply falling as the summer nears.

But 2024 has departed from norms in significant ways and with June on the horizon airlines have seats to sell with plenty of capacity at many accommodation options for the peak months.

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Air fares to some well-travelled destinations in Europe have actually fallen as consumers hold off making bookings, according to travel writer and owner of trade publication TravelExtra, Eoghan Corry.

‘I am much more optimistic [about prices] than I would have been six weeks ago because it’s quite clear that the demand isn’t reaching the heights that the airlines anticipated’

—  Eoghan Corry, travel writer

He points to a handful of new flight options from Ireland to Turkey, Greece and Italy and more US-bound flights but says an increase in services to both Malaga and Faro has had a bigger impact on prices.

“The airlines loaded their prices on the high side in January and February, and Ryanair’s Michael O’Leary was telling every open microphone that prices would be high this year because of the duel problem of Boeing deliveries and engine recalls,” Corry says. “I am much more optimistic than I would have been six weeks ago because it’s quite clear that the demand isn’t reaching the heights that the airlines anticipated.”

He says that as a result, prices on some routes could be up to 20 per cent lower than last year as we head into the summer months.

He notes the increase in flights on the “trunk routes” from Dublin to Faro and Dublin to Malaga with both “still competitively priced. Those are the routes that we can’t get enough of,” he says.

Earlier this week Ryanair chief executive O’Leary all but confirmed Corry’s assessment when he said air fares had not increased at the anticipated pace, with peak prices more likely to rise by “zero to 5 per cent” rather than the “5 to 10 per cent” the carrier had expected.

While he said Ryanair had not expected a third consecutive summer of 20 per cent-plus ticket price increases, he conceded that demand had been lower than anticipated in the weeks since the end of Ryanair’s financial year on March 31st.

“There is some degree of consumer resistance. There’s not a lot of confidence across Europe,” he observed.

He added that if needed, the airline would be “aggressive on pricing” to boost demand and said that seat sales run in the weeks since March had prompted a good response from customers.

It’s not just up in the air where there are glimmers of hope for consumers. Things are also looking up on the seas, with prices on ferry crossings from Ireland to France easing back slightly from highs recorded early this year.

Pearse Keller is the managing director of camping operator Kelair/Campotel. “There is availability throughout the summer, nothing is fully booked yet,” he says.

Pearse Keller says a family of four can have eight nights in Domaine Des Ormes in Brittany, including the ferry crossing with a cabin, from €3,120 in July. By the last week in August the price falls to €2,285

“The ferry companies have come back on their prices compared to what they had at the beginning of the year, so that’s given us a little bit more to play with. We plagued them on prices for a long time and it allows us to sell our holidays at better value.”

Camping is undoubtedly a value option for many families, particularly larger ones, “because you’re not trying to buy five or six airline seats and all those extras that come with that”, Keller says.

He says a family of four can have eight nights in Domaine Des Ormes in Brittany, including the ferry crossing with a cabin, from €3,120 in July. By the last week in August the price falls to €2,285 and from the middle of September, the holiday will cost as little as €999.

Such price fluctuations will be wearily familiar to parents with children of school-going age which explains why many try to sidestep the peak months by taking children out of school for holidays.

Figures from Tusla. show the estimated number of extended absences where holidays were a factor jumped from 60,000-65,000 in 2019 to 350,000 in 2022.

While parents looking to save tend to focus on Irish school holidays, it is also worth bearing in mind holidays elsewhere. English children have a half term starting on May 27th this year, so expect a spike in prices that week. Their summer holidays don’t start until July 25th and Irish families should really look to get away earlier that that. Germans also have a 10-day break from May 21st, with their summer holidays also starting on July 25th.

Getting away is one thing, covering the costs while away can be quite another.

Ireland has not been alone in enduring a cost-of-living crisis and the cost of hotels and restaurants has climbed significantly elsewhere when compared with pre-pandemic prices, although lunch or dinner on the Algarve or Spanish Costas is still significantly cheaper than at home.

“The cost-of-living stuff hasn’t gone gaga this year and there’s more stability in terms of pricing,” says Paul Hackett, managing director of online travel agency Click & Go.

His view is echoed by Corry, who says prices on the ground in places including Spain and Portugal have not climbed excessively while the issues that plagued the car-hire industry in 2022 and to a lesser extent in 2023 have largely been resolved.

“In some places the cost of a meal out and a hotel has raced ahead a little bit, but Portugal in particular has been offering very good value resilience,” he suggests.

‘[There’s] a different approach to holidays and travel, and some people are just quite content to say, “I’m not going to buy into the hype of having to book in January, I’ll have a look at it closer to the time”'

—  Paul Hackett, MD of online travel agency Click & Go

Hackett points to “a massive number of people who have not yet booked. Aer Lingus have a sale for August and September, and Ryanair is pretty much on sale every other day and so there’s a lot of capacity and there’s still a lot of availability, plenty of choice there, and it is not stupid prices.”

The cost of car hire has fallen back to 2019 levels, he says.

He suggests that while travel has recovered in the post-pandemic period, there is “a different approach to holidays and travel, and some people are just quite content to say, ‘I’m not going to buy into the hype of having to book in January, I’ll have a look at it closer to the time when I know what money I have to spend and what I want to do.’”

The accommodation providers he works with across Europe have reported strong June sales but less so in July and August, so “there’s plenty of options for people and plenty of opportunity and reasonably good prices.”

When asked for value in the weeks ahead, Hackett highlights a €589-per-person trip for a family of four to a five-star resort in Gran Canaria with return flights included on June 20th and a €339-per-person trip to what is described as a four-star aparthotel on the Algarve with return flights departing on the same date.

Hackett has not noticed any reluctance among would-be holidaymakers to book holidays in locations that were burning hot last summer. “People have very short memories,” he says.

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